Books, I Don't Need No Stinking Books!!

This is the general discussion area of the canadiansoldiers.com website; a forum in which issues pertaining to 20th Century military history from a British and Canadian perspective can be discussed freely. Posters are asked to please do others the courtesy of posting with their name rather than a pseudonym.

Books, I Don't Need No Stinking Books!!

Ed Storey
Ed Storey

June 1st, 2007, 3:49 am #1

In light of the current string of threads on the forum, I thought that I would sit down and send off and epistle.

My take on this is as I have stated before, militaria collecting is no longer a hobby, but an industry. It is an industry that is fueled by a large number of people who are actively chasing an ever dwindling amount of stuff. Due to the demand, the price of this stuff keeps going up.

Militaria collecting is a cruel industry, to play you need money, luck, and knowledge. You also have to have the wits of a fox and the memory of a computer because in order to find, recognize and purchase your ‘holly grail’, you have to compete with potentially hundreds of other people who all want and desire the same thing. If you play the game long enough, you can develop a niche area of expertise and a web of contacts that can both support and feed your hunger and at the same time draw from you to support their own cravings.

Since most of the recent discussions focus on knowledge, here is my take on this factor. A couple of decades ago, those good ol’ days when everything was cheap and plentiful and when few collected anything beyond insignia, medals and weapons, life was simple. References were rudimentary, but since most 20th Century items were well within the price range of the average collector and as far as Canadian stuff was concerned, reproductions were nearly unheard of, it was pretty much a safe bet that if you walked in off the street to a show or a shop, they were called surplus stores back then; that whatever you bought on a whim was good. To top things off, if you were unsure of what you had, you could usually go and find out from one of the local collectors what your recent treasure was. These sages of collecting were great guys and generally knew, through experience, what much of the stuff being collected was.

Things changed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. People began to realize that there were not endless amounts of this stuff, the stuff was now 50 years old, there was a renewed interest in things military by the public and to top it all off, more people with greater amounts of disposable income came into the game. As well, the re-enacting/living history craze really took off which meant that the demand for an even wider variety of stuff was being created. All of these factors started the upward price spiral of militaria. Things that were once considered junk by mainstream collectors were now being highly sought after and many items that were once the staple of collectors were now shooting up in price at a rate no-one could have predicted.

During this time period another thing started to happen. Individuals began a more scholarly research into what this stuff was. Primary source material held in archives and museums was now being accessed and researched in order to accurately find out the answers to some questions and on occasion debunk myths that had been passed on from collector to collector. This research resulted in an information explosion that was unheard of in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was now possible to actually go and purchase a book on militaria that could in many cases illustrate an item and give the known history, markings and background data.

Remembering now that knowledge is in my argument, one of the key factors to collecting, it is a very double edged sword for when a researcher, generally this is also a collector what wanted to know more, gets a book published this lays out much if not all of the knowledge that the person has researched and accumulated. This now means that this shared information is available to everyone, the same people who are out there trying to find and purchase the stuff just written about and what the author may also still be collecting. This can also have a ‘trickle up effect’ in that rare examples are now openly identified and prices on the items written about could potentially increase and the knowledge base has now been widened.

This also leads to another potential problem and that is the problem of reproductions or fakes. Again much has been written about this topic and there are those collectors who like reproductions as ‘place holders’ and the re-enactors/living history people like them as they can wear them without worrying about ruining an original. Fair enough, but what surprises me is that why would someone be producing exact reproductions down to exact stitching and recreated materials to the point where no-one can tell the difference between a reproduction and an original? I am not sure if these exact reproductions are being created to deceive, but I am suspicious. Of course with the wealth of information now being published, it certainly makes it easier for those who make a living from selling exact reproductions to make the reproductions even more exact so I can understand the reasoning behind not releasing all the information. Of course this hurts the honest collector who is thirsty for the information and I think that this is indicative on how reproductions hurt the industry.

When it comes to reproductions, I always thought the idea of collecting was to actually hold an original piece of history, perhaps study it and perhaps learn something about it. Purchasing copies and building a collection of them seems counterproductive to me and I think that we have yet to feel the damage to the industry that these fakes or reproductions will do.

So, how does this relate to people asking questions on this forum and not getting the somewhat terse and cold ‘go buy a book’ answer? I have stated before and I have stated again that too many people come into the industry with too much money, some luck and no knowledge. Knowledge seems to get forfeited in favour of having more income to dispose of and with the advent of the internet, it is really too easy to sit down and type a question into the ‘magic box’ and have someone spit out the answer. Perhaps it is me, perhaps I am just old and cynical or maybe I am an elitist or a snob, but I get the impression that for some people they seem to think ‘why purchase a book when I can ask for the answer’. After all this is a ‘hobby’ and we are all suppose to sit around and exchange information and ideas, we are suppose to help each other and the new collector so why not take advantage of this and keep asking questions. It is easy to say shame on those that suggest purchasing a book or doing the leg work, or those that suggest the book route and are not freely providing the answers are discouraging new collectors. I have to ask, is not pointing a person towards the book not answering the question? Maybe collectors today have to be spoon fed, or perhaps I am just cynical.
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Ken Joyce
Ken Joyce

June 1st, 2007, 1:44 pm #2

A very good all-round analysis of the state of things effecting collecting and this forum.

It is also a good point that today there is much more access to material than the good ole days you mentioned. I can remember hunting for years to find a para helmet (for example) . Without the internet and e-bay, it was difficult. So way back when many of us started the hobby, we really had to work hard just to get a glimpse of something we were interested in and to get the hands on knowledge. Today, apart from books and the computer, there is just much more of everything out there. So it should actually be easier for new collectors to get hands on experience and to build that side of their knowledge. I agree that they should spend more time and resources learning rather than just buying. Again, as you well pointed out, the only drawbacks to collecting now are the insane prices and the quality of copies.

I do not advocate raising prices just because something is published in a book. However it is inevitable that people will use this knowledge to make money. Its too bad. The only way I can support this is if research reveals facts that can justify some sort of price increase ie. low production numbers. Thats ok, but lets not go ape shit about it. There are many out there who jack up prices just to raise the bar. That is another thing that has, in my opinon, changed since the 80's. It really was like a hobby then and I think the prices were more realistic and increased at a more reasonable rate. However as you so well stated, its now a world wide industry.

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Steve Forth
Steve Forth

June 2nd, 2007, 1:57 am #3

In light of the current string of threads on the forum, I thought that I would sit down and send off and epistle.

My take on this is as I have stated before, militaria collecting is no longer a hobby, but an industry. It is an industry that is fueled by a large number of people who are actively chasing an ever dwindling amount of stuff. Due to the demand, the price of this stuff keeps going up.

Militaria collecting is a cruel industry, to play you need money, luck, and knowledge. You also have to have the wits of a fox and the memory of a computer because in order to find, recognize and purchase your ‘holly grail’, you have to compete with potentially hundreds of other people who all want and desire the same thing. If you play the game long enough, you can develop a niche area of expertise and a web of contacts that can both support and feed your hunger and at the same time draw from you to support their own cravings.

Since most of the recent discussions focus on knowledge, here is my take on this factor. A couple of decades ago, those good ol’ days when everything was cheap and plentiful and when few collected anything beyond insignia, medals and weapons, life was simple. References were rudimentary, but since most 20th Century items were well within the price range of the average collector and as far as Canadian stuff was concerned, reproductions were nearly unheard of, it was pretty much a safe bet that if you walked in off the street to a show or a shop, they were called surplus stores back then; that whatever you bought on a whim was good. To top things off, if you were unsure of what you had, you could usually go and find out from one of the local collectors what your recent treasure was. These sages of collecting were great guys and generally knew, through experience, what much of the stuff being collected was.

Things changed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. People began to realize that there were not endless amounts of this stuff, the stuff was now 50 years old, there was a renewed interest in things military by the public and to top it all off, more people with greater amounts of disposable income came into the game. As well, the re-enacting/living history craze really took off which meant that the demand for an even wider variety of stuff was being created. All of these factors started the upward price spiral of militaria. Things that were once considered junk by mainstream collectors were now being highly sought after and many items that were once the staple of collectors were now shooting up in price at a rate no-one could have predicted.

During this time period another thing started to happen. Individuals began a more scholarly research into what this stuff was. Primary source material held in archives and museums was now being accessed and researched in order to accurately find out the answers to some questions and on occasion debunk myths that had been passed on from collector to collector. This research resulted in an information explosion that was unheard of in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was now possible to actually go and purchase a book on militaria that could in many cases illustrate an item and give the known history, markings and background data.

Remembering now that knowledge is in my argument, one of the key factors to collecting, it is a very double edged sword for when a researcher, generally this is also a collector what wanted to know more, gets a book published this lays out much if not all of the knowledge that the person has researched and accumulated. This now means that this shared information is available to everyone, the same people who are out there trying to find and purchase the stuff just written about and what the author may also still be collecting. This can also have a ‘trickle up effect’ in that rare examples are now openly identified and prices on the items written about could potentially increase and the knowledge base has now been widened.

This also leads to another potential problem and that is the problem of reproductions or fakes. Again much has been written about this topic and there are those collectors who like reproductions as ‘place holders’ and the re-enactors/living history people like them as they can wear them without worrying about ruining an original. Fair enough, but what surprises me is that why would someone be producing exact reproductions down to exact stitching and recreated materials to the point where no-one can tell the difference between a reproduction and an original? I am not sure if these exact reproductions are being created to deceive, but I am suspicious. Of course with the wealth of information now being published, it certainly makes it easier for those who make a living from selling exact reproductions to make the reproductions even more exact so I can understand the reasoning behind not releasing all the information. Of course this hurts the honest collector who is thirsty for the information and I think that this is indicative on how reproductions hurt the industry.

When it comes to reproductions, I always thought the idea of collecting was to actually hold an original piece of history, perhaps study it and perhaps learn something about it. Purchasing copies and building a collection of them seems counterproductive to me and I think that we have yet to feel the damage to the industry that these fakes or reproductions will do.

So, how does this relate to people asking questions on this forum and not getting the somewhat terse and cold ‘go buy a book’ answer? I have stated before and I have stated again that too many people come into the industry with too much money, some luck and no knowledge. Knowledge seems to get forfeited in favour of having more income to dispose of and with the advent of the internet, it is really too easy to sit down and type a question into the ‘magic box’ and have someone spit out the answer. Perhaps it is me, perhaps I am just old and cynical or maybe I am an elitist or a snob, but I get the impression that for some people they seem to think ‘why purchase a book when I can ask for the answer’. After all this is a ‘hobby’ and we are all suppose to sit around and exchange information and ideas, we are suppose to help each other and the new collector so why not take advantage of this and keep asking questions. It is easy to say shame on those that suggest purchasing a book or doing the leg work, or those that suggest the book route and are not freely providing the answers are discouraging new collectors. I have to ask, is not pointing a person towards the book not answering the question? Maybe collectors today have to be spoon fed, or perhaps I am just cynical.
I agree whole heartedly that reference books are worth their weight in gold. I also agree that some people don't put any effort into trying to search the net or library before asking a question that has been answered countless times in the past. Yes, it can be frustrating if someone asks a question that he/she should have been able to reasearch easily on their own, but that doesn't mean that we should reply to their query with a sarcastic "buy a book" response. A simple "try this book... or look at this site" would suffice. Also, we all have the option of not responding at all. Better to not respond than perpetuate the growing opinion that I have heard from several people that this forum is not very user friendly. My biggest suggestion to anyone who is considering posting a question on this or any other forum is don't be lazy and try to research your question first so that you don't have to be worried about the responses that you will get.
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James Thompson
James Thompson

June 2nd, 2007, 2:29 am #4

All Ed said was that there was some good info out there in a book and suggested i look into buying said book. And then this all started? I was always told in the Army that there were no dumb Questions, so ask the Questions. Thats all i was doing, not trying to start a war of words.


James
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Steve Forth
Steve Forth

June 2nd, 2007, 2:39 am #5

Not to worry James, this thread is not a result of your question. This is an "issue" not only on this forum but on many others as well. I just thought that I would take advantage of Ed's well written thoughts to add a few of my own. After all, isn't that what forums are all about?
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James Thompson
James Thompson

June 2nd, 2007, 1:10 pm #6

I know Steve
I wasnt realy refering to your post but to the whole debate.

James
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Joined: February 5th, 2005, 4:07 pm

June 2nd, 2007, 1:38 pm #7

Not to worry James, this thread is not a result of your question. This is an "issue" not only on this forum but on many others as well. I just thought that I would take advantage of Ed's well written thoughts to add a few of my own. After all, isn't that what forums are all about?
The guy asked a question. That's what forums are for. I'm sure that there are those among us who believe that it's real shitty to respond with the statement, "Go buy a book." If somebody doesn't want to answer a question, he/she does not have to log on.

Not every person in the hobby is a seasoned old salt! Some are young kids just starting out and shouldn't we believe that oldtimers have a duty and responsibility to give back by mentoring the less experienced among us?

Having said this, let me say that I have loved books since I was a little kid, and own a fairly extensive military/aviation library dating back to the early 1950s when I would save my allowance to purchase books by ordering them from the UK and the US and wait impatiently for them to arrive, by sea no less, from the UK.

My present research on which I've spent far more years than I'd like to admit, involves the design and construction of the rudder of the Me-109, perhaps the Luftwaffe's most famous fighter of WW II. Almost every volume ever published on the 109 is sitting on my bookshelves. I've even traveled to take photographs of an actual aircraft, but if it weren't for the internet and the ability to post questions/requests on various aviation forums, I would certainly not have been able to obtain copies of the original Messerschmitt factory drawings from WW II. Nor would it have been so relatively easy to have the German translated into English without the internet and Babelfish. As a matter of fact I'm still posting questions in an effort to obtain more details; details that are not published in any book that I am aware of.

Yes, books are important, but there are no books that offer all the information one might seek, so thank God for the internet, various forums, and the availability of information. And thank God for those who take the time to respond to posted requests with even the slightest bit of information rather than curt advice to buy books or to visit a museum.

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Ed Storey
Ed Storey

June 2nd, 2007, 1:53 pm #8

Good point, but what if during your internet search and forum questionning someone mentioned to you that there was a book out that covered what you were asking, would you buy it?
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Joined: July 14th, 2005, 3:57 pm

June 2nd, 2007, 2:46 pm #9

isnt the point to pass on information so that others will learn from what you cant get in a book? passing on info from people who know their stuff is way better than just buying the book.

Ted
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Joined: February 5th, 2005, 4:07 pm

June 2nd, 2007, 2:48 pm #10

Good point, but what if during your internet search and forum questionning someone mentioned to you that there was a book out that covered what you were asking, would you buy it?
Absolutely, Ed! Those Messerschmitt factory drawings, for example, were not cheap. However, what's wrong with answering whatever question that's posted and then expanding the answer with reference to the availability of the respective book?

Once again, I'm one who advocates the purchase of books. I am not opposed to offering advice about the availability of books. But one should also realize that there are countless errors and omissions to be found in publications, some only brought to light by current research.

Most of the books on the Me 109 made mention, for example, of the late war "wooden" rudder when, during the latter part of the war, construction of the assembly was changed from a fabric-covered aluminum frame to wood, but not a single book offered details of whether the wood construction was a wood frame covered with fabric or a wood frame sheeted with plywood, or a wood frame sheeted with plywood and covered with fabric. Nor was there any detail as to the changes, if any, in the design of the actual frame. There presently are no books that cover this information, and from what I understand, the factory drawings of the wood rudder did not survive the war, so how else would one obtain details about a wood rudder short of being able to examine an extremely rare, original WWII wood assembly in its bare state with the fabric covering removed?

Now, I fully realize that this is not an aviation forum and that Me/Bf 109 rudders do not belong on a Canadian soldiers' forum, so please excuse me. Reference to the 109 rudder is being used as an example of internet research by one who owns an extensive library, one who does believe in the investment in books, in order to illustrate the importance of polite and informative responses to forum questions regardless of how simple or inane.
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